Friday, April 8, 2011

Long Beach Port's Chief Exec Steinke Leaves On Top

Richard D. Steinke, the executive director of the Port of Long Beach for more than 13 years, has announced that he will be retiring as of Sept. 30, ending a tenure that included guiding the port through one of the most successful periods of growth and development in its 100-year history.

Considered one of the most knowledgeable and respected port directors in the world, Steinke has been a prominent voice for the Long Beach port – the Western Hemisphere's second busiest container port – on both the national and international scene.

His departure came as a surprise to many, including his direct supervisors at the port, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners.

"Even though the board is technically his boss, Dick has always served as a mentor for the commissioners," Commission President Nick Sramek said.

“Dick has helped us develop a great staff, a great team here at the port, and we’re confident that we can maintain Long Beach’s world-class status.”

Belying no hint of recent confrontations between Long Beach City Hall and the port, Mayor Bob Foster praised Steinke, adding, "He really is the kind of person you want in public service. I want to thank Dick for his leadership and wish him well in retirement and in his future endeavors."

In Sacramento State Senator Alan Lowenthal, who has faced off with the port many times on environmental issues, said he was very surprised by the news, but wished Steinke well.

"He led the Port of Long Beach through the transformation from a port that just cared about the bottom line to one that still wanted to support economic development but changed its vision to include the impacts upon the community and the reduction of those impacts" Lowenthal said of Steinke. "I applaud him. I hope who ever follows him takes on this dual vision of both economic development and also environmental protection as the mantra for the future."

Industry officials were also taken aback by Steinke's sudden announcement, but took time to praise his accomplishments.

"There are many words to describe Dick Steinke – honest, intelligent, calm, sincere, balanced and a person of integrity," said Pacific Merchant Shipping Association president John McLaurin. “While his retirement is great news for Dick and his family, it is sad news and a loss for the trade community and the general public."

Steinke, who has agreed to stay on with the port through the search for and transition to a replacement, leaves the port at literally the top of his game. In the last few years of his tenure at the port, Steinke has overseen the almost full recovery of the port from the massive industry downturn in 2009, the implementation of several highly successful environmental programs, and the launching of major port development programs.

“I have accomplished most of what I set out to do at the Port,” said Steinke. ”I’m pleased that I can move on knowing that I leave the port a better place than when I came on board.”
Indeed, the Port of Long Beach was a radically different place when Steinke took over in 1997.

Reportedly selected as the executive director in some small part because his mild-mannered management style and even-keel professionalism was nearly the antithesis of the previous top executive at the port, Steinke took the reigns of a port handling just under 4 million TEUs a year and receiving vessels that maxed out at about 5,500 TEUs.

He leaves a port that handled nearly 6.3 million TEUs in 2010 and is regularly visited by container vessels in the 10,000 to 12,000 TEU range.

During his tenure he has overseen the development of such major projects as the Alameda Corridor, the TTI container terminal, the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement, the Carnival Cruise terminal and the Middle Harbor project.

The Alameda Corridor, a 20-mile rail expressway that connects the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles with transcontinental rail yards near downtown Los Angeles, has been praised for increasing throughput and port efficiency while reducing rail/street traffic congestion and easing air pollution.

The TTI terminal, dubbed the first "mega-terminal," converted a former US Navy base into a 400-plus acre container facility and earned the port a $1 billion 25-year lease agreement from ocean carrier Hanjin. 

While the $950 million replacement for the aging Gerald Desmond Bridge is not likely to officially break ground before Steinke leaves the port, he has led the port's effort to secure the federal, state and local funding require to complete it.

The $1 billion Middle Harbor project, part of an overall 10-year $4 billion redevelopment project kicked of by the port last year, will see two oddly-shaped and aging terminals converted into a single contiguous megaterminal.

In addition, during his previous five-year tenure at the port as Director of Properties, Steinke oversaw the 1994 purchase of 725 acres of Union Pacific property and the $277 million redevelopment in 1997 of the 170-acre Pier A.

Under his leadership the port also made tremendous strides on addressing the environmental legacy of the both the port's past and the port's success. In the early 2000s Steinke was instrumental in the launch of the Green Port Policy, which paved the way for the Harbor Commission to approve the milestone San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan, an omnibus plan that set ambition standards for addressing all port-generated pollution and defined ways to address these problems. The most notable of these was the Clean Trucks Program begun in 2008. Within two years, and with a massively successful buy in from the trucking industry, the majority of the port drayage fleet had been replaced with cleaner burning 2007 or newer model year trucks – leading to the elimination of more than 80 percent of the pre-2008 drayage-generated air emissions.

While leading the port through such success, Steinke also became a major voice within the industry itself, serving as Chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities in 2000-2001, as a member of the AAPA’s Executive Committee as the representative for South Pacific ports and as President of the California Association of Port Authorities.

He has also served as a board member for the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility Joint Powers Authority, the Harbor Association of Industry and Commerce, the Intermodal Transportation Institute and St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, and is a member of the Red Cross CEO Advisory Committee.

Steinke began his career at the Stapleton International Airport in his native Denver, Colorado serving as the Airport Property Officer for five years before joining the port in 1990.

Port officials said they would immediately begin a search to fill the executive director position.

Editor Keith Higginbotham worked in the Communications (public relations) Department at the Port of Long Beach from 2002-2007, including on many projects under the direct supervision of Richard Steinke.